Since Autopilot was first added to each Tesla vehicle in September 2014, Elon Musk’s company has continued to improve the already impressive autonomous driving system. Step by step, Autopilot’s software and hardware have been incrementally advanced. It has learned from human driver behavior, leading to the creation and improvement of its Auto Lane Change, Autopark, Autosteer, Summon, and Traffic-Aware Cruise Control features. The ultimate goal? Level 5 autonomy, the ability to navigate the roads with zero interaction from a human driver.
More than one million people die in traffic accidents every single year due to human error, and in March, a Morgan Stanley analyst stated that Tesla’s Model 3 and its Autopilot system may be an order of magnitude safer than every other car on the road. However, many of us humans remain unconvinced when it comes to self-driving cars. Some people fear new technologies generally, while others just see autonomous cars as a potential threat, even when the data stating otherwise is staring them in the face.
According to Musk, human-driven cars are the obvious threat to safe transportation, and every time a critical voice speaks out against the technology, they impede the inevitably safer roads that will follow the widespread adoption of autonomous systems. In 2016, he didn’t mince words when he told the press that vocal self-driving vehicle skeptics and members of the press who unfairly focus on the flaws of such systems are essentially “killing people.”
In 2015, the United States saw a 50-year record high in roadway deaths and injuries — 38,300 fatalities and 4.4 million injuries, to be exact. Yet a single U.S. crash in a Tesla Model S — one being operated improperly, with the human driver watching a movie — led to intense scrutiny and an investigation into the system.
Human error causes about 95 percent of all traffic fatalities, and 41 percent of all human error fatalities are caused by “recognition errors.” According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), those include inattention, distraction, or inadequate surveillance on the part of the driver. Barring outright failure or computational aberration, self-driving vehicles just don’t have these problems, and usage of autonomous systems in lieu of human drivers takes these potentially fatal driving flaws out of the equation.
Musk believes that humanity’s future includes self-driving cars. How we feel about those autonomous systems won’t stop that future from arriving. A continued stubborn preference for a far more dangerous system that we already know without any doubt results in accidents, injuries, and deaths means pain, suffering, and lost money, time, and lives. Maybe it’s time to listen to Musk and let our best drivers take the wheel for us.